Welcome back to the Add to Queue series here at emulsive.org. This series talks to film photographers from across the world who are also active on YouTube or Podcasts. Today my guest is Steve O’nions, a film photographer and YouTuber from England.
I enjoy Steve’s content for some of the same reasons I enjoy Ben Horne’s. He has a quiet enthusiasm that is quite contagious. Steve covers pretty much every aspect of photography from metering and composition to developing and printing at home and has a huge wealth of experience.
RD: How do you introduce someone to your channel? What’s it about, what will they see, does it have any particular theme?
SO: There is no particular theme but a definite bias to shooting outdoors with film.
I don’t want to limit myself to any particular medium or subject as I get bored very quickly. What I want people to see is the reality of being out and about shooting with a variety of cameras, just enjoying it and not pretending to be anything other than an amateur who is having fun.
RD: How did your channel start? Did you go out with the intention of being a successful (almost 20k followers at the time of writing) film photography channel?
SO: I had no plans at the start, I just wanted to show thecountryside I photographed and have a memory of the trips. I had thought about this probably 10 years earlier and wanted to capture something from each outing, often I’d think a video would have been more interesting than the stills.
I still have no plans or goals other than to keep making videos and experiment with different cameras and films. I certainly don’t want to spoil it by trying too hard and giving up on the fun of making what I want, when I want, a luxury I have due to photography being a pastime and not my job.
About 30 years ago I briefly considered trying to become a full time photographer but when I weighed up the amount of effort versus the rewards I decided to keep it as a very enjoyable hobby instead.
RD: One of the things I love about your channel is the variety of subjects that you cover. You look at gear, composition, film types, location, weather, pretty much everything around photography. Is this deliberate?
SO: Not deliberate at all, more as a result of my inability to do the same thing over and over (I can get bored very quickly). I usually start with a plan to go out somewhere simply because I want to and not because I need to make a vlog. I’ll then try to decide on what camera system to take which is usually determined by the weather and the distances I’ll be walking, this part can take quite a while as I weigh up the various pro’s and cons of each camera.
If I’m stuck in the house, as we were during lockdown then I’m happy to talk about things that interest me such as metering, composition, cameras and lenses etc. I keep a list on my phone with future ideas and make sure I add new ones as soon as I think of them, it is surprising how many subjects there are that haven’t received much coverage.
Although I only make the videos I want to, I am aware that people are watching them too so I try and keep them interesting, and preferably not too long. I’m not sure viewers would like to see me going into my local forest week after week so at times I’ll go out just for a walk and forget all about the photography, an iPhone is more than adequate on these occasions.
RD: A loose theme over the last year or so has been travelling lighter, reducing your gear, shooting fewer shots. What is your thinking behind that, and how is it going?
SO: Ha, that’ll be age! Seriously, it’s surprising how a little extra weight can sap your enthusiasm and turn a good day into a bad one. My preference to carry small 35mm cameras on long hikes has made the trips far more enjoyable and I hope that comes across in the videos. In the past I would lug a Hasselblad outfit up a mountain and walk past promising compositions as I couldn’t be bothered with the rigmarole of setting the thing up on the tripod when I was being hammered by the rain.
Smaller cameras, and this includes rollfilm models like folders and even the humble Holga, are perfect companions for more strenuous trips yet offer excellent image quality. They are ultimately limited by the lack of interchangeable lenses and aren’t quick to use which is why my preference is 35mm models from Nikon.
The quality of an image has little to do with detail and resolution unless that is the whole point of the shot Eg. macro. What matters most is light and composition, after this the film or sensor will have a certain relevance but not as much as people would have you believe. A lot of Cartier Bresson‘s work was somewhat soft and grainy but I’d take that any day to get images as memorable as his.
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RD: If you could give just one tip for landscape film photography, what would it be?
SO: Just get out as often as possible and shoot, especially on the days you don’t think will work well. It’s fine to want the classic views in perfect light but chances are someone has done it before and a lot better than you. Get out in the pouring rain with a bag over the camera, set it to full auto and shoot whatever captures your eye, those shots will be better than most of your carefully considered ones and almost certainly be unique as well.
RD: Do you have any specific plans for your channel?
SO: A few, but mainly just to keep making videos and find new things to shoot. I would like to expand more into areas like printing and urban shooting as these are aspects of photography I’ve done a lot with in the past yet rarely covered on video.
I am keen not to invest too much time in video production as it will be to the detriment of the photography. It’s hard enough capturing footage for a video whilst juggling the camera and scouting out compositions – multiply this by 10 for sunrise shoots when you have so little time to get everything right.
RD: If you could only shoot one format, 35mm, MF or LF, which would it be and why?
SO: That’s the question I dread most because I find it hard to answer. I have tried over the decades to use just one system and occasionally stuck at it for up to a year or more but I soon come to appreciate the virtues of other formats and drift back. I have lost count of the number of systems I’ve sold off ‘never to return’ but ended up buying them back again, usually at a higher price. I’ve had three Mamiya 645 outfits, multiple Nikon setups, Olympus OM, Voigtlander Rangefinders, five forays into large format and many others I can’t remember. In the last two years I’ve told myself not to sell anything but instead to hold onto it as no doubt I’ll want to use it again.
All that said I hate indecisiveness and people who don’t give straight answers so it would have to be 35mm. Small, light, fast, a huge choice of lenses, a format that can be used for any photographic situation.
RD: What is the future of film photography in your eyes?
SO: Hopefully we won’t lose too many film stocks although the only one that has really hurt me is when they discontinued Kodak HIE, there’s nothing comparable left. Cameras also continue to age and it has been surprising how much decent models are going for now so I’d advise people to buy good copies, prices will only continue to rise.
My biggest fear is that we lose what limited options we have in terms of darkroom papers. I started printing towards the end of the golden years, back in the 80’s when the options were incredible. Since the huge slump of the mid noughties a lot of unique papers have gone completely, some due to company closures and others from environmental concerns.
For someone like me who loves lith printing it was a shock to return to the darkroom last year and see just a couple of suitable papers remained and neither suited my tastes particularly well.
Thank you Steve for your time and involvement. I had a great time and I hope you did too.
I really cannot thank the film community enough for how readily everyone has agreed to be part of this series. If you have any ideas for who would make a good feature, or indeed if you are a film focussed YouTuber or Podcaster and would like to feature in an interview please get in touch or leave a comment below.
Coming up next I have an interview with an interesting, funny, knowledgeable and unique photographer whoruns a YouTube channel from his home in central Europe. He is often to be found deep in his homelands forests taking ultra large format photographs with home made emulsions on glass plates!
The community needs you. If you’d like to take part in this series of film photographer interviews, please drop us a line or get in touch in the comments. We’re featuring to photographers young and old; famous and obscure, so get in touch and let’s talk.